Written by: Jason Feiner
The NFL MVP race was a doozy in 2017. Two front runners went home with injuries, an elite weapon and the only salvageable player on the roster became irrelevant by week seventeen’s end, a running back did not make the cut, and a forty-year old brought home the prestigious honor. It is almost impossible to predict the winner prior to the season. The race, usually settled by week 15, was unraveling this past year. It was a race that would have come down to the wire if it weren’t for the injuries, upsets, and unspectacular play that tallied up throughout the year’s campaign.
The Most Valuable Player award is the highest quality of individual awards in the NFL and symbolizes the player who has been the best each time he steps on the field. The MVP honor shows how impactful the individual player was to their team, producing on a greater scale than any other in leading their team to victory. It signifies greatness.
Each year, a player is crowned regular season MVP, and it is no different by the end of week 16 when a fantasy superstar receives the honor. Fantasy has evolved into a year round entity, and now with the dog days of the NFL coming to a close and training camp quickly approaching, players are readying themselves for the march to a title. Although ten of the last eleven MVPs have been quarterbacks, that’s not the case in this lopsided fantasy spectrum. In fact, more running backs are awarded this distinguished honor within fantasy circles. It is what makes the skill positions so coveted.
Fantasy is a game of wit, knowledge, and pure luck. It takes plenty of skill to draft and trade, but without a sprinkle of fairy dust thrown in, the unknown players could sneak up and knock each player out of contention for a title. Dating back to 2013, no player has repeated as fantasy football’s Most Valuable Player. In each of those years, two quarterbacks (Drew Brees 2013 and Cam Newton 2015), and three running backs (Le’Veon Bell 2014, David Johnson 2016 and Todd Gurley 2017) have been honored with this award.
With the NFL boasting talent on each roster, let’s take a look at who could emerge as the MVP during the 2018 fantasy season.
The Front Runner: Todd Gurley, Los Angeles Rams
In his first year within Sean McVay’s explosive offense, Gurley captured the title of offensive player of the year and received the second most votes on the MVP ballot. He was virtually unstoppable, running through defenses, jumping over defenders, and catching the ball out of the backfield. Totaling 2,093 yards and 19 touchdowns in 15 games played, Gurley was the centerpiece of the highest scoring offense in 2017. His numbers are scaled back; in four separate games Gurley was benched at half time because the Rams were winning by so much. He is in the perfect system to increase his production and take on a larger workload than in 2017. Gurley handled the ball 279 times on the ground and added to his workload with 64 receptions on the year. His total touches should increase along with his impressive production from the previous year.
In 2017, Gurley led all running backs and receivers in points scored with 319.30, trailing only QB Russell Wilson. Gurley single-handedly won the fantasy championship, scoring an average of 35.7 points per game through the final three weeks of the fantasy season, including 42 and 39.6 in weeks 15 and 16, respectively. He was the lone running back to accumulate over 2,000 all purpose yards and was 1 score away from 20 touchdowns. The Rams added firepower to their receiving game, and with improved play by quarterback Jared Goff, Gurley should have plenty of running room against defensive fronts.
Although the next player on the list has the consistency to be the number 1 candidate for the coveted Fantasy MVP award, it was tough to move away from the reigning Offensive Player of the Year and the focal point of the NFL’s highest scoring offense.
The Best Player Available: Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers
When healthy, the title of best running back goes to disgruntled Pittsburgh Steeler Le’Veon Bell.
Yet to score under 13.22 points per game in any campaign, Bell has ranked as a top four fantasy running back in each year of his career with 20.2 points per contest coming in 2016. Totaling 406 touches in 2017, Bell is in line for a massive workload and could record his best season yet.
The Steelers’ feature back has proven countless times that he is much more than a one trick pony, accumulating over 80 receptions in three different seasons, accounting for 85 (second on the team) in 2017. The versatile back has a chance to become the third back to gain 1,000 yards both on the ground and through the air, and leading the NFL’s fantasy elite in points. In 2017, Bell garnered 1,946 total yards and 11 touchdowns. Almost certain to improve on those numbers in 2018, Bell is always in the running to be named fantasy’s MVP. And with a future Hall of Fame quarterback on the same roster, defenses can’t stack the box against Bell, making his life much easier. He is a top 2 player heading into the 2018 season and could end up winning a title for the team.
The only reason I didn’t rank Lev Bell as the number one player on this list is due to his contract situation. Franchised players have until the July 16th deadline to sign long term deals, and if this deal can’t get done on time, the superstar back has threatened a lengthy holdout that may cut into the season. Bell started off last season looking sluggish, scoring a total of 13.8 points through the first two weeks of the season after missing training camp prior to the start of the regular season. How long would the hold out last this year?
A Comeback to Remember: Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
After missing nine games with a broken collarbone in 2017, Aaron Rodgers looks primed for a comeback campaign worthy of greatness. Already viewed as the front runner for the NFL MVP award, Green Bay’s quarterback is sure to place himself in the running for the most valuable fantasy player in 2018. Excluding his two broken clavicle years, Rodgers has thrown under 38 touchdowns just once since 2011. Yes, you read that correctly… In 2011, he recorded 45 passing touchdowns. In 2012, it was 39, and in 2014, he hung up 38. 2015 came with the low but still respectable 31, and in 2016 he lit teams up for 40. When healthy, he is the most physically gifted quarterback in the league.
Rodgers is the most dangerous player in fantasy, and each year he sits at the top of fantasy boards. He has ranked as the number 1 player in two out of three years in between his injury plagued campaigns. Since 2011, he has yet to score under 18.82 points per game, and has scored over 21 points in each contest throughout four separate seasons, with 26.49 coming in 2011. In 2016, he led Matt Ryan, the eventual NFL MVP, by over two fantasy points per game. In most cases, Aaron Rodgers is the number 1 fantasy quarterback in the league, and 2018 could be the year he captures a fantasy MVP. He is my pick to win the Comeback Player of the Year award in 2018, and should put on a clinic if any team tries to stand in his way.
Unprecedented Consistency: Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh
The most trustworthy and consistent player year in and year out, Antonio Brown, has managed to put together five consecutive years of 100 plus receptions, breaking the four-year record previously held by Hall of Fame receiver Marvin Harrison. This past season, Brown secured 101 receptions and 1,533 yards before missing the final three weeks due to injury suffered in week 14 against the New England Patriots. In three of the last five years, Brown has finished with at least 1,500 yards and 10 touchdowns, while missing the fifteen hundred yard mark by a single yard in 2013. Brown is the safest player in fantasy, as players know exactly what they are getting by drafting the elite receiver.
In 14 games this past season, Brown accumulated 209.3 points, a total of 14.95 points per game in standard scoring leagues. When playing In PPR formats, adding an extra 100 points to his final point total is already written in the stars. Since his 2013 emergence, Brown has finished as a top 4 receiver in each year, twice placing at the top of the list. In each of those five seasons, Brown has yet to score under 12.43 points per contest, which would have ranked third among receivers in 2017. Widely considered the best receiver in football, Brown is the best option at the position in fantasy and presents a real chance to earn the fantasy MVP honors.
A Workload Fit for a King: Zeke Elliott, Dallas Cowboys
After the departure of longtime Cowboys Jason Witten and Dez Bryant, the top targets of Dak Prescott, it is highly likely the team leans on their All-Pro running back to handle the majority of their offensive production. The Dallas superstar is in line for a monster workload in 2018. After being drafted 4th overall in 2016, Zeke was given 322 carries and recorded 32 receptions through the first fifteen weeks of the season, and in 2017, his total touches grew on a per game basis. During Zeke’s rookie season, he accrued 293.40 points on the year, a total of 19.56 points per game. He torched defenses for a league leading 1,631 yards and 15 touchdowns while running behind the number one ranked line in the league. This offseason they refueled an offensive line that includes Zach Martin, the top paid offensive guard in the league, and Tyron Smith, arguably the best tackle in the game (returning from an injury plagued season).
This past season, Zeke was on pace for 1,571 yards before a 6 game suspension derailed his year, and without Dak’s favorite targets in the lineup, it is entirely plausible that Zeke’s role in the passing game is inflated. Throughout his short career, the electric back has averaged 2.3 receptions per game, and it is likely that number skyrockets throughout the course of next year. There is a real possibility he eclipses 350 carries and 40 receptions while fighting for the fantasy crown and rushing record.
Zeke is in line for a workload fit for a king, and he could be due for his best season yet with a full 16 game schedule ahead of him.